In the November issue of D Magazine, freelance writer Jason Sheeler profiled Steven Doyle, founder of CraveDFW. When we assigned Sheeler the job, he had no idea who Doyle was. Sheeler called Doyle and asked if he could tag along on one of his nightly fact-finding missions. The whole evening was recorded, with Doyle’s permission, on audio tape. Sheeler filed the story.
Steven Doyle is not happy with the piece. He feels it’s “mean spirited and odd.”
Since the story hit the streets, I’ve received phone calls, texts, and emails from bartenders, waiters, restaurant owners, and readers who have, as one put it, “observed Doyle in action on numerous occasions.” What is astonishing to me is that none of these people will speak on the record.
So I will.
I don’t “know” Steven Doyle. I’ve met him a few times and he has contributed to SideDish. I think he is a nice person with a big heart and he wants to create a big love fest in the Dallas dining scene. He works hard. But Doyle is a cheerleader masquerading as reporter and he is setting a dangerous precedent for food bloggers following his lead. They attend free media food and drink events and write glowing reports without mentioning the fact they didn’t pay. They posses a scary sense of entitlement: “I have a food blog let me in.” Do their reports serve the reader? No, they serve the restaurant industry.
If I’m a restaurant owner, I’m not going on the record to say anything against food bloggers who attend my media dinner and, in turn, talk, blog, and tweet about my yummy food. It’s free advertising. I can’t blame them. Hell, I even feel sorry for restaurant PR people—who needs to hire one if you can get 50 food bloggers with advance degrees in social media to spread your message. Doyle claims he doesn’t take anything other than what all members of the media are offered. However, plenty of people have reported otherwise. Truthfully, if Doyle would “own” his modus operandi, he could be an appealing personality. His recent gig as host of the celebrity kitchen at the State Fair proved he can carry an audience. His website could be a respectable pay-for-play alternative like an insidery version of Where magazine. Crowds at the bars part as he enters. His groupies wear I Heart Steve “tour” jackets. Instead, Doyle chooses to deny and retreat.
I’m no shrink but Doyle’s need to be first at reporting a restaurant opening or closing is unhealthy. Many restaurant operators have said that if a story about them appears in another blog, they get a text, email, or phone call from Doyle. “He basically bullies me by saying ‘why didn’t you call me?’ or ‘your place is busy because of me,’” said one bar owner who, of course, doesn’t want his name used.
It’s the dawn of a new age in food writing. Everybody’s a food critic. The Associated Press standards are slipping fast. So are the FTC’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” which states bloggers can be fined up to $11,000 for not disclosing freebies. The FTC explains that an “in-kind payment” for a blog post is considered an endorsement and the payment must be disclosed.
Doyle thinks I am out to get him and bring down all of the Dallas food bloggers. Am I making too much of a big deal out of this? You are the reader, what do you think?